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State says districts without evaluation deals to lose funds Jan. 1

The State Education Department will cut districts off from one pot of federal funds within days unless they settle on new teacher evaluations for some struggling schools.

In a move that the state teachers union called “an arbitrary exercise of brinksmanship,” State Education Commissioner John King issued the threat today to New York City and nine other school districts that are receiving School Improvement Grants to overhaul their lowest-performing schools.

King said all but two had not met the requirements to continue receiving the funds — most notably, the requirement to hammer out agreements on new teacher evaluation systems. Those agreements are supposed to be in place by Dec. 31.

In July, city and UFT officials reached an agreement to roll out new teacher evaluations in 33 of the schools, known as “persistently low-achieving” schools. That agreement came a week after the state turned up the pressure on the city and just in time for the schools to receive nearly $60 million in federal funds.

But city officials said today that the agreement was only a “framework” that must be formalized by the Dec. 31 deadline.

If that doesn’t happen, a funding freeze would not only prevent new reforms from being put in place but also could threaten changes that are already underway. Yonkers is warning that SIG-funded teaching positions at some of its schools would effectively be terminated. Some New York City schools have “master teachers” whose salaries are paid out of the federal grant money.

City and union officials say they remain locked in negotiations — which are sure to be tense after a semester when relations between the groups grew strained over the new evaluation system’s rollout.

The stakes are also higher now because a deadline for all city schools to adopt new teacher evaluations is just six months away. King’s ultimatum today applies only to the 33 schools already being overhauled and 11 additional schools that the city must revamp according to federal guidelines. But a similar strategy in June could put hundreds of millions of Race to the Top dollars in jeopardy if new teacher evaluations are still not finalized.

Last month, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city would not strike an evaluation deal just to keep federal funds flowing. Today, he said city officials were in talks with the union but left the door open to stalemate.

“For months, we have been in engaged in discussions with the UFT around implementing a teacher evaluation model in the SIG schools,” Walcott said in a statement. “We continue to engage in discussions with the UFT, and all parties are cognizant of the deadline.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew sounded a similar note in a statement today.

“We have been meeting with the DOE in an attempt to resolve these issues,” he said. “We have further meetings scheduled this week.”

The state teachers union, NYSUT, said a funding freeze would disproportionately affect schools attended by poor students. Instead of cutting off funding to struggling schools, the union said King should ask federal authorities for more time. More than a dozen states have already gotten extensions, according to NYSUT.

But King signaled that he planned to stick to the deadline, no matter the consequences.

“These funds are targeted to help troubled schools. The last thing the students need is to lose resources because the adults who run those schools won’t fulfill their responsibilities,” he said in a statement. “The clock is ticking. When the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the money drops off the table, and it will be difficult to get it back.”

The other districts at risk of losing federal funds are Buffalo, Yonkers, Albany, Schenectady, Roosevelt, Poughkeepsie and Greenburgh 11. Rochester and Syracuse have turned in materials for the state to review, according to SED. The Journal-News reports that Poughkeepsie is on track to meet the Jan. 1 deadline but that Yonkers cannot and would seek legal recourse if the funding freeze takes place.